This is my favorite time of year. Young soon-to-be high school graduates opening their college acceptance letters and getting ready for prom. I remember what this was like for me. I was accepted to my University, getting ready for prom and figuring out what my summer job would be. Notice there are two things I didn’t mention…my current classes and how I would pay for it. Luckily things came together for me. To do it again, though, I would have spent way more time on the prep.
What if you’re about to embark on an adult-learning program? That’s what they call it when you’re past the age of 18, probably with a family and full time job about to enter college. Remember, college isn’t just for the young, it’s for everyone looking to move their lives forward. College, traditional four-year or otherwise, can be an expensive proposition. The cost to attend college in the United States has risen astronomically. This is an exciting time in your life but the stress of how to pay for it may be weighing you down.
Everyone knows about student loans. People have begun moving away from this option to avoid the debt that takes what feels like a lifetime to pay off. Some students have opted to attend less “prestigious” universities with lower tuition costs while other’s are choosing to work full time and take online classes or attend community college. The prestigious (i.e. expensive) institutions have begun to realize that a great education is out of reach for many and have begun offering online courses for a reduced tuition or for free. Schools such as Harvard even offer free tuition to attend for qualified individuals with little or no resources. Community college is a great option, if you stick with it. Only 16% of community college students earn a degree within six years from the first school they attend versus 69% of four-year college students according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Back to the question at hand, how do you pay for your education without loans or a significantly smaller loan:
- Federal and state grants – you apply for this through the regular financial aid application process of your intended school. Pell grants are based on your need, don’t need to be repaid and max out at $5,550 per year. Your need will be based on your parents’ income if you’re a dependent on your own if no one can claim you as a dependent.
- Tuition reimbursement – if you’re already a full-time employee your company may offer tuition reimbursement to return to school. You’ll need to read the fine print (terms and conditions) carefully. Many require that you either continue working or return to the company for a set amount of time after graduating. If you’re in school now or headed there, check out Target, Home Depot, Starbucks, Verizon, and research other companies that have a program for enrolled college students.
- Military service – I am not suggesting you join the military. If you have already served – THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE – do some research into your benefits, you may have free tuition coming your way via the GI bill. If you’re considering a military career, look in to the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) program which is for enrolled college students. Do your homework, each branch of the military offers a ROTC program, while not available at all institutions, they are at over 1,000.
- Scholarships – apply for scholarships. Some resources for finding scholarships are your intended school, www.scholarships.com, www.collegeboard.com, www.collegenet.com, www.fastweb.com, and www.scholarshipmonkey.com.
- Federal work study – this is also offered through your financial aid package if you qualify. You will have a limited amount of hours you can work but it gets you access to on-campus jobs geared toward enrolled students.
- Summer job – spend your time working during the summer. Save up some cash to put toward your books in the fall
Taking all of these options into account, if you still need a loan doing the above will help to reduce the amount of loan money you require. Opt for Federal loans because they will give you the best interest rate. If you have to use a private lender, research and compare the best terms. The benefit of the Federal loan is you can defer payment should you return to school after graduating (if you attend graduate school for instance) or fall on hard times.
Don’t let money stop you from achieving your dreams or the next level of your life. You’re meant for greatness. Get creative with it and go to school!
REAL TALK | REAL THINGS | REAL RESULTS